The Amherst embassy to the Jiaqing Court, 1816

Lord Amherst

The Amherst Embassy to the the Jiaqing Court in 1816 has been little studied by historians. Dismissed as a fiasco and as one of the worst failures of British diplomacy, the Amherst Embassy was expelled from Beijing on the day it arrived due to the ambassador's refusal to kotou before the Jiaqing Emperor. Amherst complained that his embassy was marked by:
"...hurry and confusion, of irregularity and disorder, of insult, inhumanity, and almost of personal violence, sufficient to give the court of the Emperor Kia King the manners, character, and appearance of the raving camp of a Tartar Horde."

The Jiaqing Emperor as no less dismissive in his formal written response informing the Prince Regent that: "... there will be no occasion hereafter for you to send an ambassador from so great a distance."

This seminar explores specific research goals arising out of the Amherst Embassy. A major theme is the impact of the reception of the embassy upon the views of those British diplomats whose published accounts helped create an image of China and the Chinese in Britain at this time. It is argued that the perceived insult to the British monarch, its ambassador, and to national pride, exposed the futility of engaging in future diplomatic relations with the Chinese Court to pursue British goals in China. Rather the British were to resort to force to open China to British trade commencing with the First Opium War of 1839.

About the Speaker

Caroline Stevenson is researching Anglo-Chinese relations during the ‘Canton Trade’ period and is working on the Amherst Embassy to the Jiaqing Emperor in 1816. After graduating in 1967 she taught in the Humanities Department at RMIT before accompanying her husband on diplomatic postings. These included Kuala Lumpur and Bangkok. Travelling widely throughout Malaysia and Thailand, Caroline developed an interest in the early Chinese export trade in ceramics to South East Asia. She attended courses on the archaeology of the Malay Peninsular at the University of Malaya and presented papers on Chinese export wares to study groups affiliated with the National Museum in Bangkok. On return to Australia Caroline commenced a Masters Degree (Anthropology) at ANU on Malay royal ritual in the early colonial period but this was suspended due to a posting to Washington DC. Recently returning to ANU through the Master of Studies programme, Caroline has taken the opportunity to pursue a PhD at the Australian Centre on China in the World in her primary area of interest of maritime trade with China.


Caroline Stevenson

Dates & times

Friday, 5 September 2014

10.00am - 11.00am


Seminar Rooms, China in the World Building (188), Fellows Lane, ANU

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